Microsoft changes tune on selling DRM-free songs

Microsoft plans to follow Apple and sell DRM-free songs online from EMI and other labels

Following digital music pioneer Apple's lead yet again, Microsoft said last week it will soon sell digital music online without digital rights management (DRM) protection.

Microsoft's apparent change of heart on selling DRM-free music came in response to Apple's deal earlier in the week to sell unprotected content from recording company EMI Group. The company previously claimed that DRM was necessary for current and emerging digital media business models.

"The EMI announcement on Monday was not exclusive to Apple," said Katy Asher, a Microsoft spokeswoman on the Zune team, in an e-mail to the IDG News Service Friday. She said Microsoft has been talking with not only EMI but other record labels "for some time now" about offering unprotected music on its Zune players in an effort to meet the needs of its customers.

"Consumers have made it clear that unprotected music is something they want," Asher said. "We plan on offering it to them as soon as our label partners are comfortable with it."

In February, Apple CEO and founder Steve Jobs stirred up controversy when he called for the end to DRM in an open letter to the industry published on Apple's Web site. At the time, Microsoft responded harshly to Jobs' statement -- a Zune spokesman called it naive and irresponsible -- but now the company seems to have literally changed its tune.

Microsoft released Zune and its corresponding Zune Marketplace last November as a competitor to iPod and iTunes. Early reports on sales of the device show it has done little to cut into iPod's market share, but Microsoft executives have maintained that the company's investment in Zune is long term and the product was not expected to overtake the iPod immediately.

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Elizabeth Montalbano

IDG News Service
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